Emerging Technology (Enhancing, Engaging, Connecting)

Technology Trends for Higher Education

Predicting the future is never easy or straightforward, particularly when technology is involved. But context and preceding trends provide a good basis for projecting forward. With this in mind, there are several areas we should note for the year ahead. Not surprisingly, they include both positive and beneficial developments, as well as those that are quite troubling.

Let’s begin with two trends that should concern us all: enhanced cyberattacks and social bots.

Cyberattacks will continue to grow, which is hardly a surprise. Three underlying shifts should be noted. Hacking tools will grow in both sophistication and availability. Not everyone who commits cybercrimes is proficient with hacking technology. What are termed “exploit kits” can be shopped on the dark web, and they can be very effective, even without specialized hacking skills.

Machine learning and artificial intelligence are also finding their way into both cyber-countermeasures as well as hacking tools. Cyberattacks are becoming both faster and more virulent as a result. What is being termed crime-as-a-service (CaaS) is rising rapidly, as would-be actors can actually pay for someone else to conduct an attack.

Simultaneously, social engineering attacks will continue, meaning humans will remain a key entry point for successful attacks. User training and support will be vital. A single compromised user has the potential to open the doors of the entire enterprise to a crippling attack in many forms, including ransomware. Institutions that do not maintain effective cybersecurity postures will see their risks escalate. Identity management and two-factor authorization systems should now be standard.

Malicious social bots will proliferate. The term “bot” is an abbreviation of the word robot, and generally means software or an app that can act on behalf of human agents. With the Russian insertion into American life, bots have become widely associated with malicious activity—and for good reason. Social bots can be used as effective instruments of psychological manipulation. In addition, they are rapid, effective, and require little human interaction after they are launched. In short, they can be a force multiplier for evildoers.

Lest anyone dismiss bots as an overblown concern, a recently published University of Southern California study found that up to 48 million Twitter accounts aren’t people, they are bots. The study notes, these bots can “emulate human behavior to manufacture fake grassroots political support” and to “promote terrorist propaganda and recruitment.” As educators, the term “fake news” often provokes a deeper reaction.

Two for the Good

Now to turn to two less ominous areas. Augmented reality and artificial intelligence both have significant positive benefits and, correspondingly, both are important to higher ed institutions.

Augmented reality will continue to develop in capability as well as availability and adoption. Anyone who has experienced virtual reality will appreciate the power of this technology and how it can play a key role in a number of diverse areas. Importantly, we will also see augmented reality move from an individual to a group-based activity and, therefore, the potential of this technology for collaboration.

Augmented reality is finding adoption as institutions realize its potential to enhance the effectiveness of teaching and learning. The year ahead will see augmented reality gain a stronger foothold as early adopters demonstrate its educational benefits.

Artificial intelligence (AI) is progressing at an impressive rate. Most of us are familiar with Alexa, Cortana, Google Assistant, Siri, and other ways we talk to computers through voice-interactive systems. What we probably don’t realize is the extent to which AI has already found its way into our daily lives, including the way products are routed to our attention based on previous buying and browsing habits. The term “smart” has found its way into nearly all product areas, from appliances to automobiles.

Beyond its appearance in commercial products, AI, coupled with the related efforts in machine learning, has enormous potential for improving the human condition through contributions in medicine, space exploration, education, and numerous other endeavors. Colleges and universities have an opportunity to support and influence the development of AI if we accept and act on that challenge. If we abdicate this responsibility for ideological reasons, we cede the results to others.

These four areas, and others, continue to present many challenges. The unique nature of higher ed positions us to incorporate both science and humanities in order to effectively lead the discussions regarding the ethical development and use of new technologies in order to benefit humanity.

This article originally appeared in the March 2018 issue of College Planning & Management.

About the Author

David W. Dodd is vice president of Information Technology and CIO at the Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, NJ. He can be reached at 201/216-5491 or david.dodd@stevens.edu.

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